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18. Secretary to the Conference President
AT THE farewell gathering for Elder A. J. Clark, newly elected president of the Southern Illinois Conference, I was asked to render several musical numbers.
Then I was invited to join a group in a quiet corner. In the group were Elder Clark himself, George Israel, Mr. Minier, Mr. Covert, and my older brother, Joe. These men were supposed to overcome any opposition I might raise to the invitation they knew Elder Clark was going to extend to me to go to Springfield, Illinois, to work as his secretary. I told them I just couldn't accept, for I had to give two weeks' notice to the food company, and I had just started work there. Mr. Covert said that he had already cared for that and he had already called back the woman whose place I had taken.
There I was without any excuse, except that I just wouldn't go through Chicago alone, since I would have to transfer from one railway station to another. My brother joined the men in urging me to go. On the Chicago matter, Mr. Israel came to my rescue, saying that in a few days he would be making a business trip to Chicago and he would see me safely transferred.
Camp meeting had just begun when I took up my new duties. I had been instructed by telegram to go to Taylorville, Illinois, and I was required to be there on a specified day.
On the train en route to Taylorville I reflected on how nice it was to be away from Battle Creek. The unpleasant experiences I had passed through while there could be more easily forgotten.
I was met at the Taylorville station and welcomed on the campground by Mrs. Clark, who had made provision for me. She presented me with a meal ticket, which I could use at the dining tent. This was the first full camp meeting I had ever attended. Everything was new and strange to me. The weather was hot both day and night, and there wasn't even a breeze to cool things off. To this was added the chirping of insects. Sleep did not come easily that first night. My mind was in Battle Creek. My sister, my closest confidante, had undergone major surgery that day. I seemed to be so far away from her. All these thoughts seemed to crowd out the thought that I was glad to leave Battle Creek. For a time I fought a battle against homesickness.
The next day I was initiated into the routine of conference correspondence. Though I had to work under somewhat unfavorable conditions, at least I was fortunate in that my heavy work schedule allowed no time for reflection. That day I was groomed in what was expected of a secretary. I was informed, among other things, that no matters pertaining to office policy and procedure should pass to others from my lips. What those who thus instructed me didn't know was how very thorough my training in that line had been during the seven months I had worked for Mr. Canright!
I was then informed that there would be a combined union and local conference committee session that night to consider the case of a leading evangelist. I would be expected to take the minutes as well as all verbal discussions. I was appalled at my responsibilities, but I resolved to do my best. The meeting lasted almost all night. At four o'clock in the morning I was informed that the report of that meeting with a copy for each committee member was to be ready by nine o'clock. I can't seem to remember whether or not I made the deadline.
After camp meeting we made the trip to the conference office at 304 West Allen Street, Springfield, Illinois.
My period of initiation over, the girls accepted me as one of their number. In the course of time the office personnel changed. Edith McClellan was the only one who didn't marry. She, in turn, was transferred to the Hinsdale Sanitarium and
later worked at the Review and Herald office. It was feared that no one would be left to take the publishing secretary's dictation. I was afraid I would be called upon to do this, and I was. But once again I managed to pull through by dint of effort.
While working for the president of the Southern Illinois Conference I received a letter from Mr. Cornell. I was glad I didn't have to meet him face to face, because I knew how small I would have felt. In substance, what he wrote was as follows: "I have just learned your address. How is it you left the school without paying your bill? I took a chance on you, providing for your education on credit, but you left me in a lurch. That is all the thanks I get."
In reply I told him that if he would send me a statement of what I owed I would pay it in full. For my part, I said I felt that my seven months' work for Mr. Canright in his office surely should have compensated for the few months' tuition I owed at his school. His reply was brief and to the point:
"Send me $1.00 and I will send your diploma. W. E. Cornell."
This I did, and the diploma came promptly. His signature "W. E. Cornell" was in Spencerian flourish embedded in a scroll of a bird of paradise. Sometimes he did this for those who especially admired his gift in writing. Apparently he considered me one of those. Because of this gesture I knew he meant to say, "You owe me nothing more, and I'm sorry."
I enjoyed my work at the Southern Illinois Conference office. There I became acquainted with a gallant young man, Frank Johnson, secretary-treasurer of the conference. On September 10, 1914, we were married. Since conference policies limited salaries, one to a family, my marriage to the secretary-treasurer terminated my work as secretary to the president.
In Springfield, the capital of Illinois, secretaries were in demand. I found work as secretary to Junius B. Wood, reporter for the Chicago Tribune and the Illinois State Manufacturers Association, and was soon heading his Springfield staff on association and State legislature work.
In 1915 Mr. Johnson was called to the Wisconsin Conference to serve as secretary of the Tract Society.
I remember 1915, however, not so much because of our move, but because it marked the end of an era for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In midsummer the church's "special messenger," Ellen G. White, died. The funeral, we learned, would be held in the Battle Creek Tabernacle on July 24. We could not attend, but D. M. Canright did, as I have already related.
From Kentucky we went to Tennessee. The next year Mr. Johnson was called to the Wisconsin Conference, but he soon received his fourth draft notice. As a result we went to Louisville, Kentucky, where I worked in the Kentucky Conference office for Elder Keate, the president. Our son Junius B., was born in Louisville, March 3, 1919.
After the war, encouragement from Elder Carlyle B. Haynes, president of the Southern Union Conference, took us to Memphis, Tennessee, where we operated the Letter and Mail Shop, in the Dermon Building. While in Memphis we aided in the erection of a new church building, where Frank became elder. Finally we returned to Michigan, where we have lived for forty-four years, my husband being engaged in business enterprises.
With three exceptions, which I felt were justified, I honored faithfully my pledge to keep secret what I saw and knew of Mr. Canright as I worked for him, not only till his death but for more than forty years thereafter. One of these was my conversation with the two officers of the Battle Creek Tabernacle church in July, 1913, when I paid my three dimes tithe and received a receipt and much-needed counsel. There were also a few references to the experience in conversation with Elder A. J. Clark, the former pastor of the Tabernacle church and later president of the Southern Illinois Conference. Finally, I told my husband the whole story.
To others I said nothing, but I watched and I listened. Through the years we often entertained ministers at our home, and my husband and I held many church offices. Occasionally Mr. Canright's name was mentioned. I took mental note. For more than forty years we have resided in the State
of Michigan, which was Mr. Canright's home State and principal field of his activities after leaving the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I have ever been alert to pick up information concerning him, watching especially for information concerning his character, his relationship with others, his influence, his connections both with Seventh-day Adventists and the Baptists whom he joined, and above all for information on the last two decades of his life.
My personal contacts with Mr. Canright lasted only seven months, but my interest in Mr. Canright, while I have been silent, has been lifelong, and my search for information has been tireless. The reader can well understand this. My search as time and opportunity permitted through four decades has taken me to public libraries, courthouses, churches, and conference office attics and barns, newspaper offices, cemeteries, and the homes of not a few of Mr. Canright's close relatives, and more recently to the office and vault of the Ellen G. White Estate.
In the succeeding chapters I relate some of the things that happened to Mr. Canright after I left his employ.